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Dengue – The play

January 16, 2013

Illustration by Mahjabeen Mankani/
Illustration by Mahjabeen Mankani/

I seldom miss a theatre play if there is one in town, and there is no excuse if the management is kind enough to send an invitation. I watched the ongoing play “Dengue - The Play” at Alhamra last Saturday.

Mainly responsible for bringing the production to light were some students of an elite school in Lahore, now expanding to other cities as well and their friends from other such reputed institutes.

Personally, I would have preferred going to a play with no social message at all but, being in this business myself I know how difficult it is to get funds and sponsors for a play made purely to entertain the audience, without any take-home message. So keeping in perspective the people behind it, I went to watch it hoping for less awareness-campaigning and more songs, dances, jokes, “senti” scenes and emotional performances.

To my surprise the play didn’t even try to spread awareness for the prevention or cure of dengue; instead, it brought to the audience’s notice its genesis and the ulterior motives on the part of the conspiring world and our ruling elite.

I wasn’t yet done figuring out the correlation (or rather, lack thereof) between the long list of sponsors on the brochure and banner, and the representatives giving away gift hampers on the one hand; and the austere simplicity of the set that almost looked cheap, when I turned my ear to what was happening on it.

The play begins at a time when there was no dengue. To establish how happy the nation was, the play starts off in 1992 with an ecstatic Richie Benaud declaring Pakistan the new World Cup champions. Then suddenly it cuts to just before the outbreak of dengue (in the meantime a corrupt government has taken over the reins). A stereotypical Hindu with a tilak (I have forgotten the character’s name even though its repeated again and again) who praises the idol gods after every line, brings the dengue mosquito in a jar to unleash it on the Pakistani public. A patriotic scientist, realising what havoc it could trigger once out of the jar, tries to stop the heinous act but the jar breaks while the two fight and the monster is out. They don’t disclose whether the Hindu was from India or a Pakistani, which makes it even more dangerous for the already persecuted minority here.

In this sinister background enters a Saudi sheikh, followed immediately, by way of comic relief, a few customary jokes on his 30 marriages and a perpetual state of insatiability. However, it is the good natured sheikh who ultimately finances the vaccine, mosquito repellants, etc., as he can’t see his Pakistani Muslim brothers die.

There’s a scene where a janitor girl associates herself with the west or something. I may have interpreted it wrong (my apologies if that is so), but if the connection was what I think it was, it is disturbing to say the least.

There was also a lot of ‘Yo mama’s so ugly’ type humor. I certainly have nothing against this but in no time they were resorting to (again not so original) political stuff like a guy asking, ‘What is that sucks blood and the victim dies?’ Instead of replying with dengue, the other guy answers, ‘Our president.’

The conclusion to the play was that dengue is either punishment from Allah or else bio-warfare on the part of our enemies. And you don’t even need to read between the lines to get this ‘message’.

They seem to have assembled the entire play around one scene; somebody probably came up with first. The scene is the climax where they put the mosquito on trial. After it is sentenced to death, the mosquito delivers a monologue to the audience to the effect that they can kill it but what have they done to stop corruption and injustice. The mosquito before dying insists that we should take charge and give our politicians a kick on their butt (this sentiment seems to be the flavor of the season these days).

I know the writers and directors of the play. They are all sweet kids, talented and dedicated actors. What made them go political is beyond me. I guess dating is relatively easier these days; I remember when I was their age I never thought of saving Pakistan. My whole world revolved around girls, who played so hard to get that boys couldn’t think of higher goals like saving humanity or the country.

The media too is responsible for making everyone believe he is more important than he actually is. And we can’t ignore the Imran Khan factor either, which has induced this belief in the youth that they will bring change. Imran’s Shiv Senalike philosophy that they just have to get rid of a few bad people and everything will be hunky-dory is simple enough for the youth to believe that they know everything, hence the overflow of reformers from all pores.

I don’t want to sound too judgmental; they might be right about their conspiracy theories. My question is: Does our corporate sector endorse these theories? Among the many sponsors, I remember big ones like Alckemy, FM89, Aplus, Bio Amla, the Punjab government, Alhamra Arts Council, Splitends etc. Did they read the script prior to sponsoring them? If they did not then what’s the criterion of getting projects sponsored? If they did, do they believe all this or does this come under freedom of speech?

I watched the whole play but have heard that in other shows some people walked out early and registered their protest on the Hindu angle. Judging from the fact that there have been no amendments in the script, the production team may have taken the protests as a sign that they were doing something right. The last show of the play is scheduled for Wednesday, 16th January.


The writer is a member of the band Beygairat Brigade


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.